Reef Spotlight Mike Paletta's New Tank is UP and Running

New Tank is UP and Running


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

It is now six months and counting, and the new tank(s) are coming along nicely. As I noted in my earlier articles, the setting up of my new 500-gallon tank was not just going to be about the 500, but there is also a 90-gallon frag tank and a 44-gallon nano tank attached to it via a common sump. Despite my poor timing, with Fiji and Indonesia both shutting down, it is gradually being filled with some colonies from my old tank, some choice new Australian colonies, but mostly with frags I have obtained from many of the individuals and companies aquaculturing frags. For the most part, the corals have thrived and are growing and encrusting and there have been minimal losses of either corals or fish that have been added to the tank.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

The tank is seven feet long, four feet wide and thirty inches tall, so it holds approximately 500 gallons of water. The glass is 3/4” thick along the sides and is 1” thick on the bottom and the tank is Eurobraced with 3” by ¾” bracing all around the top and ½” bracing all along the bottom of the tank. The double bracing was done to increase the strength of this tank without there being obstructive bracing across the top. Low iron glass was not used as it has been my experience that the use of LED lighting diminishes the advantages it provides and low iron glass is softer than standard glass and as a result it is much more prone to scratch. Almost every tank I have owned or seen that used low iron glass had a scratch in it and at least to me, this scratch took away more from the view than was lost due to the color of the glass. The tank itself is a simple standard rectangle.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Unlike any of my past tanks, this tank is not drilled in any way nor is the overflow for filtration within the tank. Instead, an external overflow is on one of the short sides of the tank and a plate within the tank allows for water to flow the top of the tank into the overflow. Having an external overflow provides several advantages that were not present in past tanks. By having the overflow outside of the tank there is no unsightly boxes or contraptions within the tank to take away from the aesthetics of the tank. And just as importantly, there is no “wasted” space due to an overflow taking up valuable real estate within the tank. Even in a tank as big as 500-gallons I still like to utilize every inch possible.

Having the overflow on the short side has allowed for a gyre to be created using 3 Tunze Stream III pumps on the bottom and 3 Ecotech Vortech 60 pumps on the top, that create a gyre- like flow around the tank that moves a significant amount of detritus out of the tank and into the overflow. This reduces the time it takes to clean the tank during a water change, as much of the detritus is already out of the tank due to it staying in the water column and having the gyre push it out of the overflow. Since this overflow is easily accessible it allows the detritus that has settled to be easily removed during a water change or whenever it accumulates. This is a big advantage over my past tanks, where the overflows often acted as nutrient sinks due to the amount of detritus that built up in them over time due to their inaccessibility.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

The stand, upon which the tank rests is only two feet high and is constructed of tubular aluminum and is powder coated. The stand is short as the goal was to have the top of the tank low enough so that the corals could easily be viewed from the top while standing on the floor. This design was intentional as neither the sump nor any other equipment is located under the tank. This allows for easier maintenance of the equipment as they are all more easily accessible.

The lighting chosen required an increase in the number of the lights used from the previous 300-gallon tank from six to eight Ecotech Radions. The lights are mounted above the tank mounted on the Ecotech rail system. These structures are not securely mounted to the frame of the tank but rather rest on the glass ledges of the tank. They are not secured, so that they can be moved when it is necessary to work in the tank. The lights are on for approximately 12 hours per day and are currently being run at 80% intensity. Over time the intensity will be increased, but since so many frags are being introduced into the tank the fear was that too high of a light intensity might shock some of the corals, so the intensity has been initially reduced until all of them are in place and become accustomed to the tank’s conditions. In addition, two 6 foot ReefBrite LED Actinic strips are employed in tandem with the Radions to enhance the blue. Also for six months a year some sunlight comes in through a Southern exposed window above the tank and provides natural sunlight for one-quarter of the tank for a few hours each day.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

In my previous 300-gallon tank the filtration and other equipment was connected to a 90-gallon frag tank as well as a 26-gallon nano tank. Now these tanks are connected in a more more efficient manner that allows for much easier maintenance. Improved efficiency has been achieved by using the flow through the main tank from the return pump to also be the main source of flow in the frag tank. That is, from the overflow there are two 2-inch pipes through which water flows from from the tank down to the floor and then up and into the frag tank. By having the pipes run all the way to the floor, it is easy to access not only the frag tank, but also the back of the 500 and the filtration tank. Despite this strong flow, the inhabitants of the 500 produce a significant amount of detritus, that settles in the frag tank. To reduce this, two Tunze powerheads are employed that rest on the bottom of the frag tank and twice a day switch on for 30 minutes to wash this accumulated detritus out of the frag tank and into the sump. and away from the frags.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

In addition to the aforementioned gyre-creating pumps, 4 Tunze 6155 powerheads are employed in the tank to create random flow within the tank. These pumps are mounted in the upper corners of the tank and turn on somewhat randomly and in different modes in an attempt to create something other than laminar flow within the tank.

In my attempt to have the tank be easier to maintain, the biggest factor for accomplishing this was to move all of the equipment and plumbing from underneath the old tank and instead placing the sump and all the related filtration equipment away from the tank. The new sump is a 180-gallon glass tank that has been modified with baffles that provide space for the filtration equipment. Water that flows from the main tank to this sump either flows into the frag tank that rests above and actually sits on the sump or it flows into the first chamber where it hits bioballs and then has to flow over the first baffle. The first baffle acts to slow the detritus from flowing into the main chamber of the filter. In the main chamber there are two skimmers. A large Vertex Alpha 300 protein skimmer as well as a Tunze 9430 DC skimmer.

It may seem like overkill to employ two such excellent skimmers but I do so for a couple of reasons. First, my tanks are always way overstocked, so to help reduce the high level of dissolved organics that undoubtedly occur as a result of this and because I prefer to add the things necessary for a tank to thrive rather than hope that what is good is already in the tank. To date I have not seen a paper which shows what one skimmer takes out versus another, so two are used with one running wet and the other dry in an attempt to have them remove slightly different compounds. I may be wrong, but this method has worked for me for a long time. After now running these skimmers in tandem they are both still pulling out sludge with neither shutting down the other so it is clear that there is enough dissolved material in the water for them both to work. Having them in a location that is easy to access it is now significantly easier to clean and maintain them. Initially I was going to employ a self-cleaning head on them, but due to how easy it is to now clean them, I simply take off the scum cups twice a week wash them and the necks of the skimmer and in 10 minutes they are back online and skimming. To my mind at least cleaning them twice a week has significantly improved their efficiency which is what I had hoped to do by using a self-cleaning head.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Next to the skimmers are two chambers containing Miracle Mud. Unlike my past systems which employed a refugium for holding mud, this new tank employs canisters to hold the mud instead. This method of employing the Miracle Mud has been chosen for a couple of reasons. First, it allows for me to easily change out the mud every six months or so and do so quickly and easily but simply dumping out the canister and refilling it. Second this method was chosen as I did not want to include an algae filter in the system. To date this method has worked well and will be easy to change out in the coming months.

After the main chamber are two more baffles that help to reduce any remaining detritus from being drawn in by the Vectra pump and washed back into the main tank. These baffles are filled with live rock, Brightwell nitrate blocks and Brightwell phosphate spheres. The latter two substrates are designed to reduce nitrate and phosphate naturally using bacteria. To date they seem to be functioning as hoped, as the nitrate level in the tank is between 5-10 and phosphate is .010-.015, both of which are where I consider to be the sweet spots for my tank. After these baffles is the return chamber which houses not only the Vectra return pump, but also a Vertex media chamber containing carbon. This carbon filter is run for the first week of every month with new carbon then it is taken off line, the carbon is replaced and then it is run again the first week of the next month. I do not run carbon all the time as I have found that it takes out everything regardless of whether it is good or bad. It should be noted that both the carbon reactor as well as the Miracle Mud reactors run off of the flow from the Vectra pump. This is a significant improvement in efficiency from the old tank set up where each of these as well as the nano and frag tanks each had their own pumps to supply water.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Just as the reactors are fed from the Vectra pump, so too is the 40-gallon “nano” tank that rests besides the sump. This nano tank houses only small fish that otherwise would get lost, eaten or bullied in the main tank. As are all of the other tanks it is illuminated with a Radion Gen 4 30 watt light and flow is provided by a Ecotech MP10 powerhead. This tank is way over stocked with both fish and corals and it is only possible to do this and I do not advocate this, because it is hooked up to the filtration system for the 500-gallon tank so keeping the tank clean is not the issue. It will be interesting to see if behavioral issues become a problem in the future. Since all of these fish were introduced simultaneously when the tank was started it is my hope that since they will have grown up together they will tolerate one another even as they mature. The tank also houses a Euphyllia garden as well as a collection of Gonioporas and Acans. To date all of these are thriving and thriving to a much greater degree than was the case in some of my previous tanks, especially the Gonioporas.

One other consideration was taken into account when this tank was planned and implemented. And that was my desire to never have an issue with water getting on the floor again and causing damage. To this end, all of the drywall around the tank and sump was removed and replaced with waterproof drywall. After that was done, all of the components for water changes and make up water were placed so that even if they overflowed, any water from them would go into a drain. And even the sump of the tank itself was oversized so that if there was a power outage, the sump would have adequate capacity to hold the water from the main tank. All of this was tested once everything was online and twice since when the power has gone out and to date it has worked as planned. Knowing this is the case makes it not only easier to sleep at night but also allows me to travel without worry.


Photos are courtesy of and used with permission from @Mike Paletta, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

So, after seeing and reading about all that was done I’m sure you are thinking that there is nothing more to do. But as well know getting a tank “perfect” is always a moving target. Due to space limitations I have not gotten into how things are dosed, calcium supplementation or the inhabitants of the tank. I hope to cover those in future articles. So despite having most things completed as of this writing, I still have much to do, at least in my mind. These include tinkering with dosing, so that trace elements can be dosed daily. Adding an alkalinity monitor so that daily testing will not be necessary. Placing diffusors on all of the Radions, while simultaneously increasing the intensity of the Radions. Adding and mounting all of the frags, which will be a daunting task as there are over 200 frags that need to be added. Improving the flow will need to be done over time as well as adding automatic feeders to ease my feeding the tanks so often manually. And lastly I am thinking of setting up a live plankton culture system to feed the tank live plankton daily to see how beneficial this is over time. So despite the limited success I feel I have achieved so far, my tank(s) are still a work in progress and I look forward to discussing this progress over time.


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About author
Mike Paletta
Michael Paletta’s actual career is working in genomics in breast and colon cancer for Genomic Health. He has been an avid reef keeper since 1984. He has kept personal reef aquaria ranging in size from 20 gallons to 1200 gallons and has helped set and build other reef aquaria up to 4,000 gallons in size. He currently maintains several reef aquaria including a 300 gallon sps dominated tank and a 75 lps tank. He has also consulted for The National Aquarium in Baltimore as well the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.

Michael has published over 100 articles on various aspects of reef keeping in SeaScope, Aquarium Fish Magazine, FAMA, Practical Fishkeeping, and Coral Magazine. He has also published two books: The New Marine Aquarium and Ultimate Reefs. Michael has been invited to speak at various venues around the world and across the country and has given over 200 such talks.

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Mike Paletta
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